Updated: Apr 3, 2021
The Ridgeway dates back to Anglo-Saxon times and features some of Europe’s most significant and spectacular ancient monuments and historical sites. Now a National Trail, the 87 mile Ridgeway passes through ancient landscapes once used in prehistoric times by travellers, herdsmen and armies.
Starting at Overton Hill near Avebury in Wiltshire the Ridgeway follows an elevated chalk ridge of the Berkshire Downs, then drops down to the Thames at the Goring Gap. This western part of The Ridgeway is a broad, remote track running through the North Wessex Downs providing wide open vistas and sweeping views of rolling chalk downlands.
After crossing the Thames at the picturesque riverside village of Goring, the Ridgeway becomes very undulating as it winds in and out of the valleys of the Chiltern Hills, through Wendover Woods, a high point offering spectacular views across the Aylesbury Vale.
The Ridgeway crosses over the picturesque Grand Union Canal before it emerges at Pitstone Hill from where the exceptional views continue for the rest of the trail - snaking its way along the ridge of the Chilterns’ chalk escarpment. The final climb to the top of Beacon Hill, part of the National Trust Ashridge Estate culminates at Ivinghoe Beacon - providing truly amazing 360 degree views of the surrounding landscape and the Vale of Aylesbury.
The Ridgeway: It’s Monumental!
An outstanding feature of the Ridgeway, adding another dimension to this historic road, is the surprising number of Europe’s oldest and most significant historical sites and Neolithic monuments. Dating back to the Iron and Bronze Ages these include Stone Age long barrows, Bronze Age round barrows, Iron Age forts and the figures of white horses cut into the chalk.
Wayland's Smithy - Neolithic Burial Site
5,000 years old, and some believe it may even
have existed when England was still connected
to continental Europe when the Thames
was a tributary of the Rhine!
Near the start you’ll find the Avebury Stone Circle at Overton Hill. Built in the Bronze Age it is one of the largest and oldest megalithic stone circles in the world! Of such significance it is now a World Heritage Site and is a site of religious importance thought to be used for some form of ritual or ceremony.
Photo: Martin Krotil
Not far from the start of the Ridgeway West Kennet Long Barrow is one of the biggest and most impressive Neolithic chambered tombs in Britain. Built in c. 3650 BC, it was used as a burial chamber - “home” to approx. 50 people.
Back on the trail Silbury Hill, the largest man-made hill in Europe dates back to the Stone Age. Tools from this era have been found here, including those made from the ox shoulder blades.
Barbury Castle is an Iron Age hill fort providing a vantage point and commanding views over the Cotswolds and the River Severn. It has two deep defensive ditches and ramparts. The surrounding area has revealed round barrows, Celtic field systems and 18th-19th Century flint workings.
A quite spectacular and eerie scene awaits at Wayland's Smithy. This 5,000 year Neolithic burial mound is older than Stonehenge at a mere 4000 years! This magnificent site is the oldest Neolithic monument in Europe. Archaeologists believe the it was built by pastoralist communities shortly after the introduction of agriculture to Britain from continental Europe.
“If you left your horse outside overnight,
when you came to collect it, your horse
would have new shoes!”
The Uffington White Horse is the oldest hill carving in Britain. Dating back to the Bronze Age, the spectacular chalk horse was carved into the landscape. Measuring 374 feet across this spectacle is best viewed from nearby Woolstone Hill.
Dragon Hill is believed to be where St. George slayed the beast. Legend has it that the featureless hill top is due to the slayed dragon’s blood which prevents the grass from growing here!
Late Bronze Age and early Iron Age hill fort Liddington Castle sits at an imposing elevation of 909 ft. One of the earliest hill forts in Britain, it was first occupied in the 7th century BC in a strategic and commanding position close to The Ridgeway.
Another point of interest is the Blowing Stone above Watlington. Capable of producing a booming sound, legend has it that its sound could be heard from White Horse Hill. King Alfred the Great's Saxon troops are believed to have camped here and was how they were summoned by the king for the Battle of Ashdown against the Danes in AD 871. Nearing the end of the Ridgeway Castle Pulpit Hill and at its very end - Ivinghoe
Beacon Hill are respectively Iron and Bronze Age hill forts.
Marking the end of the Ridgeway and rounding off a journey through its spectacular natural beauty and ancient landmarks - it is quite befitting that Ivinghoe Beacon Hill rewards the adventurer with one final and unforgettable 360 degree view of the surrounding landscape.
Photo: Mark James
Join Wild Cycles in 2021 for a Wild Ridgeway Adventure!
This fully supported experience includes 2 days’ epic riding along the Monumental Ridgeway and 2 overnight stays in fully provisioned and supported glamping sites en-route.
For more information please go to:
Thanks & Credit to National Trust and English Heritage for content.